In a speech announcing her planned retirement from House Democratic leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled the first time she saw the U.S. Capitol.
“It was on a cold January day, when I was 6 years old,” she said. “My father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was about to be sworn in for his fifth term in Congress — representing our beloved hometown of Baltimore.”
She was in the family car with her brothers.
“And they were jumping up and down in excitement,” she recalled, “saying, ‘Nancy, Nancy, look! There’s the Capitol!’ ”
Pelosi at first didn’t know what they were talking about, but then she saw it, “a stunning white building with a magnificent dome.”
“The Capitol is a temple of our democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals,” she said.
Pelosi recalled standing with her father as he was sworn in.
“All of us who have served in this House have taken the hallowed oath of office,” she said, “and it is the oath that stitches us together in a long and storied heritage.”
Colleagues sitting in that same chamber, she said, had abolished slavery; granted women the right to vote and established Social Security and Medicare.
She described the United States as “the greatest republic in the history of the world.” Abraham Lincoln called it “the last, best hope on earth.”
“Indeed, American democracy is majestic, but it is fragile,” Pelosi said. “Many of us here have witnessed its fragility firsthand, tragically, in this chamber. And so, democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm.”
Republicans, for the most part, missed the speech.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he had meetings to attend. Perhaps he was working to round up the 218 votes he’ll need to take over the speaker’s chair.
In the moments before and after Pelosi’s speech, McCarthy’s fellow Republican leaders were tweeting about what lay ahead.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking member of the caucus, tweeted that she looked forward to working with McCarthy and the others “to #SaveAmerica.”
“House Republicans earned our Majority,” she wrote, “and the Speaker’s gavel will no longer belong to Nancy Pelosi.”
Minority Whip Steve Scalise had a message for President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“For years, the media has covered for the Biden family,” he tweeted. “That ends soon. Real accountability is finally coming.”
Pelosi called on her colleagues to unite in defending our nation’s founding principles.
“While we will have our disagreements on policy,” she said, “we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us and to always put our country first.”
When the counting is done, Republicans will have a few more seats than they need for a simple majority.
“As we participate in a hallmark of our republic, the peaceful, orderly transition from one Congress to the next, let us consider the words of, again, President Lincoln, spoken during one of America’s darkest hours,” Pelosi said. “He called upon us to come together to ‘swell the chorus of the Union, when once again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ That, again, is the task at hand.”
Pelosi offered an optimistic vision for the future.
“A new day is dawning on the horizon,” she said. “And I look forward, always forward, to the unfolding story of our nation. A story of light and love. Of patriotism and progress. Of many becoming one. And, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”
She might be disappointed. Republicans aren’t much interested in reaching across the aisle to get things done. For the moment, they’re more focused on getting even.